But while the familiar silhouette did not change, the forest’s interior was being ravaged by introduced mammalian predators pests, and its dawn chorus was fading.
The Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust was formed in 2002 to revive as much as possible of the area’s original ecology for people to enjoy, children to learn and scientists to study. The trust’s aim is to involve the community in creating a pest-free forest, filled to capacity with native birds, insects, reptiles, frogs and other wildlife.
Besides an engaged and committed community, Maungatautari has a lot going for it as a restoration project. The mountain is almost completely bush-clad and its forest canopy is still largely intact and diverse, able to sustain healthy populations of New Zealand species. Because it is surrounded by farmland, building the fence was a practical option, and because it is so close to a large city and main highway, it is easily accessible to many New Zealanders.
It is expected the mountain will become a focus for visitors and environmental studies.
Size of area under protection
The Maungatautari restoration project covers 3400 hectares of forested, extinct volcano in the Waikato basin, between Cambridge, Te Awamutu and Putaruru, in the central North Island of New Zealand.
The land is owned by Maori, private landowners and the Crown.
The biggest challenge was, and still is, funding, especially long-term funding to cover the operational costs.
Significant gains have been made since the project began in 2002. Costs have reached more than $20 million to date, and the project’s operation costs are around $1 million per year. Other successes include:
- 47 kilomters of pest-proof fence built and maintained
- 13 known pest mammal species eradicated, and reinvasion has been prevented. Only mice remain on the main mountain, and the sub-enclosures totalling 100 hectares are totally free of all pest mammals.
Pre-existing native plants and animals have benefitted significantly (including Hochstetter’s frogs and perhaps even Duvaucel’s geckos, one of which was found on the mountain in 2010), and significant positive ecosystem responses have been measured.
Eight bird species have been reintroduced already, including six threatened
- Hihi (nationally endangered)
- Kaka (nationally vulnerable)
- Takahe (nationally critical)
- Western brown kiwi (nationally vulnerable)
- Tieke (Endangered recovering)
- Kokako (Endangered recovering)
All the threatened species are now breeding on the maunga. Hihi in particular are already strongly indicating that Maungatautari will support a self-sustaining population—which will be only the second such population in the world. (The other self-sustaining site for hihi is Hauturu/Little Barrier Island, which has the only naturally-surviving population). More than 30 young Maungatautari-bred kiwi have already been exported to other restoration projects.
The most important thing
Maungatautari is a reconstructed naturally-functioning forest ecosystem, to which many lost species are being reintroduced. Its size and nature makes such a ‘reassembling’ of species in one site possible—and the resulting ecosystem will be something not seen since humans first arrived in this land, and caused the ecosystem collapse that we see today.
If you would like to learn more about the trust and its work, or volunteer your efforts, you can contact the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust at:
Phone: 07 870 5180
Fax: 07 870 5198
Postal address: PO Box 476, Cambridge
Location: 99 Tari Road, Pukeatua.